The Mail on Sunday has today taken aim at “freewheeling, freeloading” MPs who claim 20 pence a mile when riding their bikes on official business. But road.cc has found that in 2012/13, just six MPs made claims for travelling by bike, totalling less than £150 – compared to almost 40,000 claims for motoring expenses, amounting to nearly £900,000.
According to the Mail on Sunday, MPs are “at the centre of a new expenses row,” even though the politicians are perfectly entitled to claim the allowance, which is in line with HMRC rules and reflect wear and tear and the cost of maintaining a bike such as having it serviced.
Among the MPs to have attracted its ire are transport minister, Robert Goodwill, and shadow transport secretary, Mary Creagh.
Based on figures obtained from the Independent Parliament Standards Authority (IPSA), the Mail on Sunday identified Hugh Bayley, the Labour MP for York Central, as having claimed the highest sums over the past four years - £205 in total.
That should, however, be put into the context of the £98.1 million in total expenses claimed by MPs in 2012/13 alone.
Much of that aggregate figure relates to office and staffing costs, but amounts reimbursed for motoring mileage dwarf those for cycling.
Our research found £146.60 was claimed by six MPs for cycling either by themselves or their staff in 2012/13, with 79 separate claims submitted.
In contrast, there were nearly 40,000 separate claims by MPs for use of their own car personally or by their staff, as well as for parking. The total? More than £880,000.
In the case of Oxford East Labour MP Andrew Smith, we discovered that the amount he claimed last year for cycling was £30.60, compared to motoring expenses of £2,469.
The largest amount claimed for a single cycling trip during the year was £4.56 by Leicester East MP, Liz Kendall.
Mr Goodwill, who made just one cycling-related claim last year, told the Mail on Sunday: “I just put in a few claims to demonstrate that I use my bicycle for work. I actually made ten journeys last Thursday for votes between the Department for Transport offices and Parliament and I didn’t claim for those.”
The amount he claimed for that trip in 2012/13? 80 pence.
Ms Creagh made two claims during the same year, for a total of £1.80. She declined to speak to the newspaper.
The suggestion from the Mail on Sunday seems to be that the MPs claiming expenses are somehow on the fiddle, although given the amounts involved some might wonder whether the return justifies the effort.
And while Liam Fox’s claim of 3 pence in motoring mileage for a 100-metre trip attracted derision last year, claims for motoring expenses don’t seem to be attracting quite the same scrutiny, despite the amount of money involved being 6,000 times higher.
Mr Bayley explained to the Mail on Sunday why he claimed. “I use it to maintain my bicycles and I’ve spent a lot more than £200,” he said.
“I have two bicycles, one in my constituency and the other in London. It costs about £60 a year to put each through an annual maintenance check.”
One MP, the Liberal Democrat Norman Lamb who represents North Norfolk, claimed a total of £12.50 for bicycle use over the last four years, but told the Mail on Sunday he no longer did so.
“I concluded, I’ve got a bike, it’s not costing me anything so I just don’t claim any more,” he explained.
“I certainly think we should be encouraging MPs to use the cheapest mode of transport but I have myself chosen to do it without claiming now.”
Last December, former cycling minister Norman Baker, now at the Home Office, tried to decline the use of a ministerial car, saying he would rather use a “ministerial bicycle.”But civil servants told him it would be an “unacceptable burden” on the taxpayer, despite the department spending £136,000 a year on ministerial cars.
Before the 2010 General Election, then leader of the opposition David Cameron pledged to reduce the bill for ministerial cars by £6 million if he became prime minister.
Mr Goodwill, who was shadow transport minister at the time, said: “Unless they have a good reason – such as carrying lots of ministerial boxes or security – we will expect Tory Ministers to consider using bicycles to get around Westminster and Whitehall.
“Ministers can always put their paperwork in a backpack.”
Note: We looked at data from IPSA for 2012/13 relating to expenses claimed for use of own car or bicycle by MPs or their staff, as well as data for car parking. Some expenses related to cycling or motoring may fall under other headings, but those are the main ones.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.